Friday, April 2, 2010

Mostly I Don’t Grow Veggies

(Inspired by a visit to The Gardens of Petersonville)

Know how. Have done. Don’t much any more. Oh, I do have what my friend Wil calls an edible landscape with herbs, basil and nasturtiums in pots, raspberries, and I did reset my rhubarb two years ago (it’ll be ready to harvest next year—you have to wait three years for some reason). But rows or patches full of tomatoes, beans, zucchini, and winter squash? Nope.

There are several reasons for this, the two main ones being my CSA grower Dan Gibbs and a lack of space leading to strict priorities. Dan grows such great produce that eating a big mixed salad from his farm in summer makes me think the angels should be jealous, limited as they are to manna, ambrosia, and other such insubstantial fare. He has a lot of space and he’s local and he’s a professional. My family believes in strengthening the local economy, especially family farms, so we’re happy to subscribe. He earns a living and our summer is full of one delicious fresh-vegetable-based meal after another.

The fresh produce problem taken care of, I’ve felt free to garden my small backyard according to Aldo Leopold’s land ethic, to garden with a focus on helping preserve biodiversity. Though my garden is full of flowers, it is not an ornamental garden, with plants chosen strictly for aesthetics. I consider my yard a working landscape, and nearly every plant in it earns its keep one way or another. I won’t put in a plant simply because it’s pretty. My criteria are thus: Is it native to my region? Is it suitable to my soil, light, water conditions? What are its "faunal associations" (what pollinators, other insects and birds depend upon it, pollinate it, eat the fruits)? Is it a good companion to my other plants? I also put in certain native plants to see how they do, so I can recommend them to others. Last year it was black chokeberry, Aronia melanocarpa, and what a pleasure to see the birds eat the berries in September! This year I hope to get some of the berries for myself.


There are some exceptions to the natives-only rule. One is that I’m not going to rip out well-behaved exotics (e.g. snowdrops, scilla, daffodils, lilacs, peonies, butterfly bush and clematis) that I put in as a beginning gardener. Another is using perennial herbs such as oregano and mint, which the bees like as well as I. Since one of my aims is to preserve soil health--which means don’t till or dig if possible--when I succumb to the lure of a lantana or geranium, well, that’s what containers are for. (Yes organic farmers do till, but they also use manure, cover crops, and other methods to strengthen the soil)


My gardening philosophy has changed as I’ve matured as a gardener. When I began, besides vegetables, it was all about the bright ranks of hybrid annuals, exotic perennials and striving to make my yard look like one of those pictures in a magazine. When I heard statements by more experienced gardeners who said that eventually gardeners become more interested in foliage and habit than bright colors, I didn’t believe it. But it happened to me, especially as I learned more about the complexities of the eco-region in which I live. Beauty now wears a very different face for me than once it did.

9 comments:

Elephant's Eye said...

BTW you have 13 messages waiting at Blotanical, some in response to your posts.

Edith Hope said...

Dear Adrian, I have so enjoyed this posting which I found not only interesting but highly entertaining. I loved what you said about the angels - I should wish to have said that myself.

Our gardening philosophies could not be more different. I garden primarily for aesthetics so, in the main, everything must be green or white to gain soil space. That said, I do encourage wild life although I confess to not being very good with frogs! In Budapest, where I live for much of the time, I have little more than a window box.

I have signed up as a 'Follower' as I do not wish to miss out on any more of your lively and spirited writing. Happy Easter.

jeansgarden said...

Adrian, I think my gardening philosophy falls somewhere between yours and Edith's. Like you, I don't grow veggies, but instead subscribe to a local CSA, which gets me great food and helps to support local family farms. I do have a small kitchen garden by the back door, with herbs that grow readily here, and I encourage and happily eat the native strawberries and blueberries that grow on my property. The rest of my garden is primarily ornamental, and I care a great deal about its aesthetics. Most of the plants I grow are not originally native to this area, but many of them have been grown here for hundreds of years. I am committed, however, to not introducing any invasive exotics that could escape from my garden and harm native ecosystems.
I love the focus of your blog and the information you provide. -Jean

Chandramouli S said...

Wow! Nice post. Words from a wise gardener unlike impulsive gardeners like me...

Anonymous said...

Love your new post, and enjoy your lively, conversational writing style. Now an essay on actual angels' diets.....
xoxo from Mom, who only has pots and containers now, but who was once overwhelmed by giant beef-steak tomatoes

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Edith Hope, jeansgarden and Chandramouli S,
Thanks for stopping by. One thing I like about gardening is that it's not one-size-fits-all, as revealed in your comments.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Chokeberry grows so slowly, and this winter a rabbit took one of mine down to the ground. I had 12 shrubs with chicken wire, but missed one.

Steve Asbell said...

Yeah, I can't imagine growing rows or patches of edibles. I'm more into the history or cultural significance of the edibles that i grow, especially the tropical asian ones.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Benjamin, I had put in 5 gal. size and had no problems. I plan to propagate more from seed, and will remember what you said and protect accordingly.

Steve, tropical edibles...now that is something I'd like to learn more about.